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Pat Riley Close To 1,000 NBA Wins

April 17, 2000

MIAMI (AP) _ To explain how Pat Riley accumulated 998 NBA victories, Jack Ramsay recalls a game that got away.

It was a few years ago in Charlotte, where the Miami Heat blew a three-point lead in the final seconds of regulation, then lost in overtime.

``To me, after that game, I would have been ready to punch somebody’s lights out,″ said Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach and now a Heat broadcaster. ``It was really a tough loss. So we flew back to Miami, and as Pat is getting off the plane, he looks at me and laughs and says, `That’s why you got out of coaching, isn’t it?′

``He can get rid of all the frustration. He lets it go, which is very good.″

By coping well with defeat, Riley has lasted long enough to approach 1,000 victories, a milestone achieved only by Atlanta Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens.

Riley’s focus will be elsewhere this week as the postseason approaches with point guard Tim Hardaway hobbled. And if the Heat make another hasty playoff exit after winning their fourth consecutive Atlantic Division title, Riley will be second-guessed for his stubborn commitment to the current roster.

An occasional critic points out that it has been 11 years since his most recent NBA title. Still, no one suggests the guy can’t coach.

``In this game, with all the stresses and pressures, to be able to win 1,000 games is a huge achievement,″ said Wilkens, who is 1,178-980 (.546) in 27 seasons.

Riley is 998-432 (.698) in 18 seasons. Because the Heat have already clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, their final two regular-season games are meaningless, so Riley may not reach 1,000 until next season. Postseason wins don’t count toward the total.

But there’s no hurry. At 55, Riley plans to coach at least several more years. He’ll leave the 1,000 barrier far behind and could eventually surpass Wilkens’ win total.

``Pat has been at a top level for a number of years,″ Indiana coach Larry Bird said, ``and one of these days he’ll be the all-time winningest coach. I can see it coming.″

Three years of coaching millionaires were enough for Bird, who plans to call it quits after this season. Riley, in his fifth season with his third team, still thrives in a job with high turnover and low security.

``Coaching has hooked him,″ Ramsay said. ``I was still coaching when he started. Someone asked him how long he was going to coach and he said, `Aw, I’m not a lifer like Ramsay.′ Well, it turns out he is a lifer.″

What’s most impressive about the 1,000-win milestone, Ramsay said, is how quickly Riley reached it. He has won at least 50 games in 16 seasons _ seven more than any other coach. Only twice has Riley failed to win a division title.

``He has become a great coach, no question,″ Ramsay said.

Riley thrived amid the glitter of Los Angeles, winning four NBA championships with the Lakers in the 1980s. He was less successful amid the grit of New York, winning 223 games but no titles in four seasons with the Knicks.

He lost a power struggle there and moved to Miami, where he took root like a royal palm. As team president he has a hand in every facet of the organization. Media criticism is rare, the city built him a new arena, and owner Micky Arison delegates almost all decisions to the coach.

Riley’s jutting chin, erect posture and Armani suits reflect a man proud of how far he has come from a blue-collar childhood in Schenectady, N.Y. Yet he seems humbled by the prospect of his 1,000th win.

``If I do start thinking about that many wins and all the games I’ve coached and how long I’ve been around, it just reminds me how old my children have gotten, and how old I’ve gotten, and how many arenas I’ve been in, and how many great players I’ve coached,″ Riley said.

``When I think about 1,000 wins for me, with where I came from, I would have never, ever believed it. It’s going to be something I’ll be very proud of. It gives me a feeling there’s been real success and longevity.″

And celebrity, because the 6-foot-4 Riley has become the towering sports personality in Miami. Dan Marino retired. Jimmy Johnson came and went. Jim Leyland won a World Series, then left.

How long will Riley stay? How many games will he win?

``He wants to win a championship here,″ Ramsay said, ``and I don’t think it will be this year.″

If not, that’s OK. After 998 victories, Riley knows he can’t win them all.


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